Skip to main content

Reply to this post | See parent post | Go Back
View Post [edit]

Poster: clementinescaboose Date: Jul 3, 2011 11:23pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Late 73 vs Summer 74

I must also say this is an excellent topic bkidwell! I'm a little late to the party here, but I've really been enjoying the discussion thus far. I agree that both of these periods are perhaps the most prolific in the band's history.

I'm in the minority here I suppose, because I definitely prefer Summer '74 to Fall '73, although not by a wide margin. When it comes to this kind of thing however, my Dead listening tends to go through phases depending on what I'm in the mood for. So my opinion is definitely pretty biased at the moment, since I been on a rather enormous '74 listening spree lately.

I think summer '74 has a more distinctive "sound" over fall '73. There were a lot of unique approaches to the material that aren't heard elsewhere.

A lot of the Wake of the Flood material improved imo. I think a number of Let It Grows and Eyes from fall '73 are somewhat interchangeable, whereas it would be hard for me to confuse the 7/19/74 LIG or 6/20/74 Eyes with any other versions.

Part of this I think stems from Garcia's melodic range and phrasing seeming to develop more over this time. He seems to approach every song from one show to the next with something new and creative to say. China Cat Sunflower I think is a perfect example of how different one version could be from the next. The whole band really is one fire during this time (honestly I think this could be Phil's best year) but it's Garcia to me that reaches a whole new level in improv.

I do think there is little debate that Dark Star and The Other One were better in '73 (although the 6/18/74 Other One could easily make the case for a best-ever performance). Playing in the Band seems to almost take over this role in becoming the standard jam vehicle in '74.

What's interesting however is the spontaneity of the jamming in '74. It seems as though they can take almost any song anywhere at any time. Lots of little spontaneous jams pop up throughout the summer, like the gorgeous jam into Ship of Fools on 6/23 or the loose but rockin' jam out of U.S. Blues from 7/27. More songs seem to get the "jammed-out" treatment. And let's not forget the incredible thematic jamming that reaches up into a new dimension as well. That's not to say that '73 wasn't spontaneous, or that the thematic jamming wasn't as strong, I think it was just more predictable as far as what songs were going to get this treatment, and the '74 jamming style just had an edginess and aggressiveness to it that I just don't hear in '73.

Well, hopefully that wasn't to incoherent. It can be hard to articulate exactly why you like something so much sometimes, so I think there is a non-tangible element to it also, that is hard to put into words. It's really all so subjective in the end!

This post was modified by clementinescaboose on 2011-07-04 06:18:11

This post was modified by clementinescaboose on 2011-07-04 06:23:07

Reply to this post
Reply [edit]

Poster: light into ashes Date: Jul 4, 2011 12:48am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Late 73 vs Summer 74

The jamming does take some new turns in '74... It seems the Dead got a little tired of the binary Dark Star / Other One setpieces! Instead they started favoring Truckin' and Let It Grow as two jumping-off points for improv.

Even though some common '73 highlights (Here Comes Sunshine and Bird Song and They Love Each Other) all vanished into oblivion, '74 does offer some new treats - Scarlet Begonias is for me the highlight of the new songs; the Spanish Jam of course returned (after a brief flirtation in March '73); Seastones by itself may not be such a thrill, but by the fall they were able to incorporate it into giant band jams.
As you mention, Let It Grow in '73 was still rather new; but they were confident enough with it by '74 to start taking it out into long unexpected jams; and Eyes also develops more. The China>Riders definitely get even better in '74; and Playing in the Band becomes monstrous. (Interestingly, for the most part they stick Playing back in the first set and don't use it as a set-II springboard as much in '74 as you'd expect after the late-'73 examples - maybe about 6 times.)

Reply to this post
Reply [edit]

Poster: jerlouvis Date: Jul 4, 2011 10:07am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Late 73 vs Summer 74

As LIA pointed out the band chose some different songs as a vehicle for their improvisational workouts in 74'.For me that made some of the jamming seem tacked on or less organic.The jams in and out of Let it Grow or Truckin' either didn't feel like part of the song or had a fumbling vibe to them where several themes were explored before settling on something comfortable.Where with Playin' or Dark Star the verses and structured parts were of less significance and led to a more anything can happen feel,even the Other One though strictly themed still could be wildly divergent inside it's structure.Overall the direction the band took was less free form jamming and more song oriented group interplay.
Bkidwell touched on the fact there were lots of sections that were solos,not jams,which was a glimpse into the future of Jerry playing a solo and everybody else not doing much.
All in all,74' presented us with Phil at his best,a band that fully realized its jazz roots,a distinct lush sound and some unique and brilliant jamming.

Reply to this post
Reply [edit]

Poster: bkidwell Date: Jul 4, 2011 7:04am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Late 73 vs Summer 74

Nice comments. I go back and forth myself, because there are quite a few segments from summer 74 shows that make me say "this is it - this is the best they ever played." Your comments about jams springing up in unexpected places is one of the things that gives specialness to some shows - you mention the 6/23 Ship intro jam, which is great and not as well known as another fine example, the 6/26 jam into China Cat.

As much as I love the dead, I think they could have taken things even further than they did in terms of open improv. The 74 jams we just mentioned and the Watkins Glen soundcheck jam from 73, a few sets like 11/8/69 - seem to hint at an even greater fluidity and creativity that the band rarely chose to explore. It can be easy to forget that even during the most "open" eras, song arrangements were fairly consistent and the location of the improvisational doorways was relatively standardized. There are always a lot of instrumental sections which are solos, not jams.

Of course, Weir's comment about the band losing their own audience is well-taken. The Grateful Dead never stopped being a rock band, and they probably would have had a hard time selling tickets if they had stopped doing standard verse-chorus-solo type songs for a large portion of the night. In fact, I think only Phil would really have been in favor of the idea.

As amazing a musician as Jerry Garcia was, his experimental side and his "traditional" side were sometimes in tension. The Jerry Garcia Band has always been rather uninteresting to me, and I can't really understand the perspective of all the people who think the Jerry band was better than the 80s and 90s GD. It's not even close to me - the JGB is a nice band, but I don't think the best JGB show is as good as the worst GD show. My bias as a listener towards instrumental improvisation is so strong that I'll take any random space jam from the late years over even well-performed JGB covers.

Phil clearly had the strongest sonic ideal of the kind of "hypermusic" he wanted the Grateful Dead to play, and he was often frustrated by the band's technical limitations and stylistic parameters. A song like "New Potato Caboose" was just too much for the band in many ways, and it has always made me sad to think that there was so much underused potential from Phil as a composer.

You say 74 might be Phil's best year, and I agree. Paradoxically, though, I think one of the reasons 74 isn't perfect is that the rest of the band isn't always enthusiastic about some of Phil's musical ideas - during the legendary 45 minute Playin from 5/21/74 I get the sense at some points that Billy or Keith or Weir want to be doing something more "listenable" and try to take the music towards a groove, and Phil wants to stay way out there, and Jerry ends up staying with Phil.

Of course, that was the amazing thing about the Wall - the band had so much clarity and power they could really do things like having half the band playing in one style, and the other half playing in another style, and it would work because everyone could hear what they needed to hear and the final result made sense as a gestalt. Phil Lesh cites the example of the American eccentric composer Charles Ives, who loved to juxtapose two different musics simultaneously.

The 5/21/74 Playin' is really kind of an aesthetic touchstone - contrast it with an early 69 "Dark Star" to see completely different worlds of improvisation. The 74 Playin is deliberately built on parts that contrast and clash with each other, but in an early 69 Star, everyone is trying to reinforce and follow the central musical idea, whatever it is at that moment.

I think there is a school of thought which traces this dichotomy partly to drug choices - the "group mind" of LSD fueled 60s jams versus the coked up "tweak and freak" of some 74 jamming. Other factors are growing technical skill (much more virtuosity from all band members in the 70s) and I mentioned in this thread already the issues of sound amplification - the Wall being the "contrapuntal" sound system par excellence. Clarity and separation of the voices was a requirement for the 74 style.

73 is also very contrapuntal, but the unified/group mind approach to jams is a bit more present I think. The 74 characteristic of individual players truly "cutting loose" from the ensemble isn't as common.

All generalizations like this are tricky, though, because the Spanish Jam is so important to 74, and it has a very strong and locked-in sound focus, and in some ways it calls back to their 68 sound!

Reply to this post
Reply [edit]

Poster: Space Jogger Date: Jul 4, 2011 2:29pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Late 73 vs Summer 74

Regarding the 5/21/74 Playin': I gave this a solid listen a couple weeks back and I was only moderately impressed. Obviously it is LONG, but aside from a few interesting moments, in my opinion it sounds like the band rarely has all cylinders firing together. It doesn't even make my time top ten for the year, but seems to get mentioned somewhat frequently due to it's length.

I'm not immediately familiar with every Playin' from '74, but my starting Top 5 would probably be:


Reply to this post
Reply [edit]

Poster: light into ashes Date: Jul 4, 2011 9:19am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Late 73 vs Summer 74

Many good points...

'74 was also the year in which the band indulged Phil to some extent, by giving him the Phil/Ned segment (much to the dismay of many audiences!).
But even Ned was annoyed that Phil seemed to be "deconstructing" his pieces: "I had hoped that at times Phil and I would play rhythmically - but Phil really did not want to... He wasn't going to function in a rhythmic way so I could play lead. Jerry would have that happen, but not Phil... Phil had the rest of the Grateful Dead to create beauty and coherence, and to create some frustrations. So sometimes he used our sets to deconstruct the beauty & coherence, and to deconstruct his frustration. And it's impossible to build when someone else is unbuilding."

And as you say, playing to large audiences, the band rarely indulged themselves to the extent of playing entire space-sets (a few times in the fall come close, like on 9/11 or 10/16, perhaps due to Ned's influence). Though '74 is known as a year when jams could come out of practice, that just happened a few times, and you pretty much always knew you'd be back to a song within a half-hour! (It's also notable that the massive medleys of late '73 don't happen much in '74, for some reason.) I also think they could have done free jams a lot more often than they did, but perhaps felt constrained by the audience.
Sometimes I get the feeling that the jams we get onstage are just the tip of the iceberg, and the Dead did all kinds of fascinating things in rehearsal that we never heard live. For instance, the studio jams from 2/28/75 give a sense of the possibilities that the Dead decided not to explore in front of an audience!

Weir had another comment on this, about how the band sometimes attempted Miles Davis-style fusion:
"Bitches Brew was more groove oriented and a clear lightpost, so we did that stuff in rehearsal all the time. We could also pull it off on stage from time to time."
Q: Did the audience always follow?
"We would take the temperature of the audience and though nobody ever discussed it, there was an understanding...that there is only so much of this that we are going to get away with, because for the most part, the audience came to hear songs. And of course we loved to deliver songs."

And while Jerry was content to accompany Phil on his outside journeys, there's also a feeling that there's only so much space that Jerry himself would put up with within the Dead. While Weir is the most notorious for cutting off jams, I think Jerry also determined that within a Dead show, a spacy segment would always head back to a familiar tune. (And I suspect that it was mainly due to Jerry that '90s Dead shows weren't structured more like, say, Phil & Friends shows....)
A comment on another forum:
"It's not like any of Jerry's regular side projects, pre or post-hiatus, were playing anything close to the kind of "experimental" music that the Dead were...only the stuff he did with Howard Wales seems to approach the intentional chaos that the Dead regularly flirted with... His own band always played it much straighter in terms of a "conventional music aesthetic" than the Dead did at any point in their career. If the guy really wanted to play avant-garde experimental music, then it doesn't make sense that he would have chosen to front what was essentially a bar/club cover band in his spare time... [In '75] I think the Dead all understood on some level that playing music as avant-garde as Blues For Allah or Seastones wasn't going to sustain them for very long."
Jerry once called himself musically conservative - and while there are many episodes when he would just let it fly for a while (11/28/73, anyone?), being "weird" was one color on his palette, not what he wanted to do all the time.

(On the other hand, I don't really agree with you about Phil's "underused potential" as a composer. His songs within the Dead are not only infrequent, but also generally very awkward. Considering all the musical atrocities that Weir brought to the Dead, I think Phil could easily have contributed more tunes if he'd wanted to; but I don't think writing "songs" came naturally or easily to Phil!)

Ned also had typically perceptive comments on the band in '74 - he wasn't happy with how they developed as they became more successful:
"How the band members interacted in the musical realm should have been very different. But the 'family' issues increasingly spilled over into the music. I think there was a lot of interpersonal politics and frustration, related to the growth of the band, the growth of the audience, and the change in technology."
"Some of the business and management and touring family were not particularly receptive to my being there. They did not want to see the band go off into outer space and not return. Collective improvisation wasn't random, but it wasn't particularly controllable; you got where you were getting when you got there. There were people who thought those prescribed happy sequences of Grateful Dead tunes should just go on."
"We couldn't get back to the delicate spaces - and I really wanted to be able to play that kind of music... There was too much emphasis on electronic instruments and technology, rather than on collective intuition and expression... Because of where the Grateful Dead were going, and because of the frustration and dynamics within the band...and the requirements of meeting the demands of a rock & roll extrovert culture, it didn't seem that we could get to moments of gentleness and delicacy that weren't bracketed with dynamic or power contrasts... I wanted to be more cool, introspective, and Phil and Jerry were in a different place... It was harder to play minimally, delicately."
"In response to the Seastones segments - sometimes there was audience rejection, and comments by critics that were not appreciated. Jerry didn't like audience rejection. He worked very hard to be who he was, but also to be popular, quite honestly... There was a lot of criticism about weird music, strange music, which none of us really liked...and I think Jerry was not happy in acknowledging that."

(It might be worth mentioning that Ned says he played through the second set of 6/23/74, with the little pre-Ship of Fools jam and the Dark Star>Spanish jam.)

Reply to this post
Reply [edit]

Poster: bkidwell Date: Jul 4, 2011 4:47pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Late 73 vs Summer 74

As expected, a great LIA post that combines insight and research! I think this topic - improvisational style, what the individual band members wanted to play, how the audience responded - is infinitely rich. One thing it's easy to forget is that the band as a whole was never, ever really "satisfied" with what they were doing. I think LIA you had a post here recently where you quoted the band's unhappiness with the series of gigs that "Two from the Vault" was part of, they thought the gigs were no fun and the music wasn't going where they wanted it - and as amazing as 1974 was, the band decided to semi-retire and as we have been discussing, there was a lot of conflict within the band family about what the music should sound like.

I understand and sympathize with all this - group improvisation often feels like a struggle, even when it sounds good. The band talked about the divergence of perspectives a lot in interviews - right after a show, different band members would have totally different opinions about whether it was good or not, and they learned to just accept that. Some people will always find the delicate quiet parts "boring" and other people will find the driving rock parts "crude and too loud, nobody was listening!"

On the subject of Phil as a composer - what you say about his songs being "very awkward" to me is the heart of the issue, because I agree that New Potato Caboose, Unbroken Chain just don't fit within the musical style of rock and roll, but I think that is a problem with rock music, not with Phil!

The type of music that Phil loved personally was a kind of music very different from anything that goes verse-chorus-bridge with repeating chord changes. For Phil, trying to write something that worked as a rock song was really speaking a foreign language, I think. I feel Phil was very underutilized as a composer because I think the elements that are awkward in songs - sudden rhythmic changes, chromatic chord progressions - are musical ideas that are completely valid.

For instance, St. Stephen owes a huge amount to Phil - the introduction and the slow "ladyfinger" section are his, and I think what makes St. Stephen as a song is the contrast. The band abandoned it and Jerry called it a "musical cop" - to me, the desire for everything to have what might be called an instinctive, natural flow is misguided.

My sense that Phil could have composed a lot more material for the band would have depended on the band being willing to do a lot more rehearsal and adopt a more precise, technical approach. I think the benefits really speak for themselves - New Potato Caboose, St. Stephen->The Eleven, the post-Eyes jam, Unbroken Chain, Slipknot! - I think these are musical high points for the band, and they all are founded on musical ideas that are outside the parameters of the folk/blues foundation of rock music.

Reply to this post
Reply [edit]

Poster: light into ashes Date: Jul 4, 2011 5:52pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Late 73 vs Summer 74

I would add the short-lived King Solomon's Marbles jam to that list (also, I think Jerry was more responsible for Slipknot than Phil was) - and it's also notable that Phil was the composer of Clementine back in '68.

Weir said recently, "We didn't play St Stephen for 20 years because Garcia didn't like the bridge!" (Which is both sad and funny, considering the bridge to Wharf Rat isn't that different....)
Although I think there was a bit more to it than that, Garcia's "musical-cop" quote reminds us that it is a song where the band has to be pretty tight, with several speed changes, and getting each part right in order was something that probably annoyed Garcia over time. (Certainly there are lots of Stephens even from '69-71 where he gets off-track and just flails all over the place until finding the groove again! Could be one reason they slowed the whole song down in '76...)

One important thing to notice is that the period where Phil was most involved as a composer, the first 10 years (or more specifically, '68 and '74), was also when the Dead actually rehearsed the most and really spent time working out their material.
After '75, what Phil compositions do we have? Passenger. And in live shows, that was it for 17 years!
As a result, it tended to be Weir's tunes where the band worked out their odder, more complex arrangements.

A lot of the Phil-heavy jams come from '74/75, which I think is a time when the band particularly thought it cool to work out these complicated but unified funky riffs. I'm pretty sure those end-of-Eyes jams didn't happen because Phil forced that riff on the others! Heck, it might have been Jerry's idea...
(There is also that one jazzy-riff that Phil pushes into the jams constantly in '73-'74 - the 6/24/73 Dark Star is a good example - though I can't place whether it's original, it's almost like an early version of Stronger Than Dirt.)

As you mention, the band's music from '68 on was a compromise - with no one member being completely satisfied. And whether because he wrote less material, or was stuck on bass, or perhaps was just thrilled with the others' songs, Phil seems to have given way to Jerry & Bob's musical preferences most the time. (In that 1990 interview he mentions how hard it was for him to "lead" a jam or to introduce ideas for the others to play, and just left the song selection to the singers.)
I may have sounded above like the Dead should've spent 1974 doing hour-long space jams - but I think they discovered early on that the song>jam>song approach was the most rewarding, as a mingling of genres and also as a dramatic coup on the audience, where the mood shifts and unexpected transitions are their own reward, and the overall range of the medley was wider than the individual tunes or jams.